Tucson Sugar Skulls

Late-game heroics lift Sugar Skulls to a 42-41 victory over Duke City

Tucson quarterback Daquan Neal finished with 149 yards and four touchdowns, adding 71 yards and one touchdown on the ground on Saturday night at Tucson Arena. (Sugar Skulls photo) 

The Tucson Sugar Skulls defeated the Duke City Gladiators 42-41 on Saturday night after an unforgettable finish decided in the final seconds.

With five seconds on the clock, a 7-yard touchdown pass from Duke City quarterback Ramone Atkins to Gregory Dent Jr. put the Albuquerque team ahead 41-40 as a collective sigh came over the crowd in Tucson Arena.

The Tucson faithful had experienced similar heartbreak weeks earlier in a home-opener loss to San Diego when the Strike Force scored a game-winning touchdown as time expired.

Then, as several fans headed to the exit, the planet reversed its orbit, and the tides suddenly turned when the nearly impossible happened.

Defensive lineman Tony Winslow blocked the PAT and defensive back Jovon White recovered it in the end zone, slipped through a tackle and beelined it down the sideline wall past defenders 50 yards for a two-point conversion to win the ball game. 

“What’s going through my head is, just don’t touch the wall, and try to take it to the house. It bounced off the wall, it came back in, and then I picked up,” White said. “Immediately, I just get back inside and just tried to get as much as I can and tried to take it to the house.”

Tucson held an 11-point lead with 1:29 remaining the game after quarterback Daquan Neal scored a 22-yard rushing touchdown only to watch it evaporate before its eyes down the stretch.

Duke City answered by scoring two consecutive touchdowns. 

Dent caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Atkins but failed to convert the two-point conversion that followed, cutting Tucson’s lead to to 40-35 with 28 seconds remaining. 

According to IFL rules, players have to get back to the line of scrimmage or the clock stops, so since kneeling wasn’t an option, all the Sugar Skulls had to do was run the clock out without turning the ball over.

With 19 seconds to go, Neal fumbled an errant snap from center Kordell Brewster and Duke City recovered on the Tucson 11-yard line, setting up Duke City’s final touchdown and the late-game heroics that followed for Tucson.

“We won, that’s all you can say about that one… it was crazy, but we came out winners on that one,” Tucson head coach Dixie Wooten said.

According to Wooten, he still had hope with the team trailing by one point with five seconds left in the game.

“I’ve been a part of a game where we won when we were losing by 21 points with 30 seconds on the clock, and we ended up winning. So that part I’d done been there and seen that before, so as long as there’s time on the clock, you got a chance,” he said.

While the sense of relief in Wooten’s face as he spoke after the game was notable, it was no match to the wonder and awe exuding from Tucson running back Mike Jones, a feeling that encapsulated the late game, Earth-shattering turn of events that had just occurred.

“Every level I played in, I’ve never seen that before. The football gods were definitely with us this game,” he said.

Neal completed 11 of 16 pass attempts for 149 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for 71 yards on 11 carries and had one touchdown.

Tucson wide receiver Raheem Harvey had three receptions for 57 yards with two touchdowns.

Jones rushed for 56 yards on 15 carries and had one touchdown.

Winslow blocked two PATs during the game.

The Sugar Skulls (3-3) play Saturday at Tucson Arena against the Arizona Rattlers (6-0). Kickoff is at 6:05 p.m.

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com writing intern Kevin Murphy was born and raised in Tucson, and has followed Arizona Wildcats athletics since childhood. Murphy is a journalist product manager with the Green Valley News & the Sahuarita Sun. He is currently attending the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU where he is working towards a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies.

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